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Research shows continuing skills gap and performance problems in IT Training


New research commissioned from independent researchers by NETg and published this week demonstrates continuing problems in the planning and delivery on IT training within larger companies. It can only be assumed that the problems are likely to be worse in smaller sized enterprises.

Overall, the research demonstrates:
- a continuing problem in finding the right IT skills training
- a poor understanding of IT training needs in HR departments
- a lack of good guidance and planning in selecting and deploying training
- a lack of adequate prior planning or follow up to training.

Although restricted to the IT Training field, it's likely that most of these trends could be found across several other areas of training and development, particularly where the training function is poorly aligned with the overall business strategy and focus. The implications of poor returns, productivity shortfalls and continuing underperformance in many companies are not difficult to see.

A sample of 150 trainees, HR directors and IT directors selected from some of the UK's largest companies were interviewed for the research which focused on:

- The IT skills gap - is it still a problem?

- Barriers to training - do staff have enough access to good IT training

- Productivity - are failures in company training programmes affecting productivity?

- Are companies targeting and measuring training effectively?

The following findings are based on the results as published by NETg:

The IT skills gap - is it still a problem?

Despite a relative lull in the hysteria surrounding the skills gap issue, it seems that UK companies may be being led into a false sense of security. The research revealed that the skills gap is still a significant problem for two-thirds of the IT directors questioned.

Most disturbing however, is that three-quarters (74%) of the IT directors asked are concerned that the skills gap is resulting in a loss of competitive advantage. The lack of skilled IT staff is also affecting efficiency, with 56% of the IT directors, who perceive that the IT skills gap exists, experiencing delays in completion dates of important projects. In fact, over half of the IT directors said that their company was losing profits because of the lack of qualified staff. It seems that recruiting for specific skills remains a real problem for most companies; networking skills are the most difficult to find, with programming skills as a close second, database and web skills were listed as hard to find by approximately a quarter of the sample.

The skills gap has also cost companies more through the higher salaries IT staff are able to demand. The research reveals that the majority (61%) of IT directors, who perceive that the IT skills gap exists, see higher salaries as one of the main effects of the skills gap. Increased training costs and costs resulting from delays in project completion are also key effects of the skills gap, with 56% of IT directors experiencing both these problems.

It is perhaps no surprise then that two-thirds of the IT directors questioned see the IT skills gap in some way problematic for their organisation. What is worrying though, is that one-third (36%) of the HR Directors asked are completely unaware of the concept of the IT skills gap, with 58% stating that their organisation has no problems recruiting staff with the right skills mix. This implies that there is possibly a lack of communication or a lack of understanding that exists among HR departments of the needs of their company’s IT staff.

Barriers to training - do staff have enough access to good IT training?

Although both HR and IT staff believe that their organisation is very committed to training, it appears that in fact quality training is not being made readily available. Almost half (48%) of the user sample have only attended one or less than one training course in the last year. In fact, 66% are actually having to initiate their own training programmes rather than being supported and guided by their HR and IT managers. A significant number of HR directors (25%) don’t even know how many courses staff are attending.

As well as a lack of guidance from managers, users are also finding that there are a number of barriers preventing them from accessing training. Not surprisingly, the majority of users, (70%) stated that finding time is a major barrier to training and for 40% cost is preventing them from receiving the training they need to carry out their jobs to the full. Some (25%) don’t even know what training is available.

The ‘commitment to training’ that the majority of the user sample identified as high within their companies, is thrown into question by some of these results. The research also revealed that only 20% of the training users have to give formal feedback to their line managers after course completion, highlighting that many companies do not connect training commitment to the process of assessing its effectiveness.

For the IT professionals there are also problems with access to the right training. Almost half of the HR departments (42%) believe that it is hard to understand the technical requirements of the IT department which means users may not be getting the training they need due to lack of communication. Furthermore, 80% of IT Directors think that more open access to training would help to retain more of their IT staff, with one in five directors seeing it as having a significant impact. It seems then that IT and HR departments realise the need to work more closely together to create successful training programmes and ensure that employees know what training is available to them and how to access it. However, some actual steps must be taken to solve this problem, rather than just realising it.

Are problems with company training programmes affecting productivity?

Although most users perceive that adequate training is being provided by their company (84%), knowledge is not always being retained by staff and many are not learning the specific skills required for their jobs. This problem is affecting productivity of users and IT staff.

The results show that 64% of the users waste both their own time and their colleagues time trying to sort out problems that should have been learnt on their courses. The majority of the users (68%) stated that they need more time to practice the new skills they have learnt. This is important as constant practise of new skills is a sure way of guaranteeing effective skills transfer.

It appears that providing good support after training would help users to learn more successfully, with 82% recognising that e-manuals would be more efficient than hard manuals as they can be accessed instantly and easily at the desktop. Online mentoring was listed by 42% of users as a preferred method of helping them to better memorise and implement what was learnt on IT training courses, as advice and guidance is constantly at hand.

Nearly all IT departments (96%) declared that they regularly have to deal with user questions that should have been dealt with on training courses. In fact, 40% of IT departments said they have to deal with such questions over 5 times a day. Over half (58%) of the IT departments asked spend more than four hours a week dealing with user questions that should have been covered in training courses. It seems that if the training offered by these companies was more effective, then it would help IT staff to maximise their productivity in the workplace by eliminating the time wasted in solving technical problems.

It is promising to see the strong recognition that improvements need to be made and that modern teaching methods such as technology-based training, can help users to learn more effectively and to retain knowledge.

Are companies targeting and measuring training properly?

Although leading UK companies are offering training to their IT staff, it appears that much of this training may be being wasted since it is not being efficiently targeted. The majority of users (82%) do not go through any pre-assessment prior to taking a course. As a result, many of the users may not be learning the skills required for their jobs or are going over old ground by studying skills they are already proficient in. In fact, 46% of staff haven’t received training on the computer packages which they need to use.

Although over three-quarters (78%) of the IT directors agreed that targeted training was a more effective method of learning, only 8% are implementing it. With many of today’s modern teaching methods it is now possible for learners to take pre-assessment tests and for IT directors to target training to their IT staff. It seems, however, that few companies have implemented these forms of training and are using the more traditional methods that can be quite generic, so it is often a case of hit or miss as to whether students learn the specific skills they need.

From the research, it is difficult to assess exactly how much training is being wasted through lack of targeting and how effective many of these companies’ training programmes are. Most HR departments (86%) claim to be measuring the effectiveness and success of their training programmes, even though only 52% of users are asked to fill in post-course assessment forms and only 20% give formal feedback to their managers following course completion. If HR and IT departments are to improve training programmes for their IT staff, the importance of post-training feedback cannot be underestimated.

The majority (62%) of HR directors claim that less than 10% of their training budget is wasted. Yet only one third of HR departments are measuring the effects of their training programmes on company profitability, and less than half measure the return on investment.


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